Feature Photo: Miguel Medina / AFP
It finally happened in his fourth game. It took 344 minutes for Cristiano Ronaldo to score his first Italian goals – a double at the Allianz Stadium to help Juventus overcome Sassuolo’s resistance in Serie A Round 4. He had probably imagined this moment to be different. More spectacular maybe. Perhaps not as jaw-dropping as the overhead kick that gained him a standing ovation back in April from his soon-to-be home fans but still more exciting than the easy tap-in which finally broke his drought this afternoon.
When hype overwhelms an occasion such as this – when the whole football was seemingly holding its breath waiting for the day Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first goal for Juventus –breaking the ice was the only thing that really mattered, regardless of how it was done.
Ronaldo himself knew that. And as he ran to celebrate his first Serie A goal, the smile on his face hinted of tension released. Without the burden of having to prove himself – yes, even him, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner – the Genius of Madeira appeared transformed. He scored again 10 minutes later, and then went close to making it three, and four, before the Neroverdi visitors reduced the gap in stoppage time.
Roberto De Zerbi’s Sassuolo lasted 50 minutes, the time it took for Ronaldo to put the ball into Andrea Consigli’s goal for the first time, before letting themselves go and allowing the Bianconeri to double their lead. Khouma Babacar’s header in the 93rd minute only gave the visitors an ephemeral illusion, as referee Daniele Chiffi blew the final whistle shortly afterward. The Neroverdi defended themselves with order, but failed to create any serious threat to home keeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Juventus, on the other hand, showed that they can make the best out of games like this without hitting the gas hard. Massimiliano Allegri resorted to some player turnover with an eye on the upcoming Champions League tie in Valencia on Wednesday – deploying Joao Cancelo on the right flank, and giving an opportunity to Turkish midfielder Emre Can from the first minute for the first time this season. Paulo Dybala also returned to the starting eleven – the Portuguese defender having redeemed himself after a shaky start with Chievo in the opening match, while Can’s crossing prowess and speed sent Sassuolo’s defense into panic mode on multiple occasions.
Still, the Bianconeri’s path towards their fourth win in a row, and sole leadership of Serie A, was paved with some occasional scares, such as when opposition defender Gian Marco Ferrari hit the crossbar from a corner kick in the 12th minute. Chiffi deemed it invalid on account of Ferrari’s foul – but it did not matter – the scare was real.
Too bad that Sassuolo dug their own grave later in the game, pushing so hard for an own goal that, well, in the end they almost got it. First, defender Pol Lirola was responsible for a bizarre deflection into his own goal from a cross by Can – it took a superb reflex by Consigli to keep the score even. Then, a few minutes after the break, it was Ferrari’s turn to hit his own post with a header to clear the ball from another corner kick. This time though Ronaldo was lurking in the area, hungry for a scoring chance – an easy conversion for CR7, and a much-awaited celebration for the Allianz Stadium crowd. The hoodoo was broken.
The Neroverdi gave the impression of easing up – a capital mistake against a team who cynically rendered them a mere stepping stone in their Scudetto winning streak. In the 65th minute, Can received a pass on the halfway line, and galloped all over the field before providing Juventus’ number 7 the opportunity for his second joy of the day. The home side smelled the chance for a goleada – after all, they scored seven goals against Sassuolo only a few months ago – but Ronaldo’s subsequent attempts missed the target, delaying a hat trick rendez-vous for the time being.
A few minutes earlier, Juventus’ coach sent Douglas Costa on, giving the Brazilian a chance to stage his own bizarre remake of Falling Down. Just as Babacar scored Sassuolo’s first, Douglas Costa inexplicably attempted to headbutt Federico Di Francesco, and then spat at him to earn a red card and a likely multiple match ban.
That was the only cloud in Massimiliano Allegri’s relaxed afternoon, which confirmed his side’s sole leadership of Serie A, and reasserted the presence of his new offensive weapon. His name is Ronaldo and, after going three games without scoring, it will be interesting to see if today’s game opened Pandora’s box…
September 16, 2018 – Serie A 2018-19 Round 4
SCORERS: 50′ Cristiano Ronaldo (J), 65′ Cristiano Ronaldo (J), Babacar (S) 91’
|JUVENTUS (4-3-1-2): Szczesny; Cancelo, Benatia, Bonucci, Alex Sandro (80′ Cuadrado); Khedira, Emre Can (71’ Bentancur), Matuidi; Dybala; Mandzukic (61’ Douglas Costa), Cristiano Ronaldo (Pinsoglio, Perin, De Sciglio, Rugani, Chiellini, Pjanic, Kean, Bernardeschi) Coach: Allegri|
|SASSUOLO (4-3-3): Consigli; Lirola, Marlon, Ferrari, Rogerio (71’ Dell’Orco); Duncan, Locatelli (83’ Babacar), Bourabia; Berardi, Boateng, Djuricic (60’ Di Francesco) (Pegolo, Adjapong, Magnani, Lemos, Magnanelli, Sensi, Boga, Brignola, Matri) Coach: De Zerbi|
REFEREE: Mr. Chiffi from Padova
NOTES: Attendance: 40563; Yellow Cards: Cancelo, Alex Sandro, Douglas Costa (J), Djuricic, Berardi, Bourabia (S); Red Card: Douglas Costa (J)